R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Brainstorming the Year’s Top Energy Stories

I am working on a few things right now that should be finished up in the next week or so. First, I am compiling a list of questions/comments for Bob Cohen regarding his recent guest post on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). I will post his answers. If you have a relevant question that you feel wasn’t asked following that essay, post it here and I will get it to him.

Second, I am trying to put together the year’s top energy stories. In my mind the one at or near the top has been the resurgence in oil prices since January. Oil prices have more than doubled, and in a normal year that would be big news. But I think the news has been discounted merely because the levels are so much lower than the record levels of 2008. After that, there are a few stories that I think go in the Top 10, like the enormous amount of money devoted to energy in the stimulus package, the plunge in oil demand/imports, the commissioning of various alternative energy projects, Climategate, and the passage of Markey-Waxman. What other significant stories happened this year that deserve a spot in the Top 10?

Third, I have been really overwhelmed with e-mails lately. If I didn’t answer your e-mail in a timely manner, I apologize. If I missed it completely and you really need an answer, please resend. Sometimes things inadvertently end up in my spam folder. But I have gotten a couple of e-mails recently from people wishing to share links on energy saving tips, and so here those are:

20 Under $5 Tips to Improve Your Cars Gas Mileage

One of their tips:

Too much junk in the trunk – It’s a known fact that excess weight in your car caused the engine to work even harder. Being that said, having too much junk in the trunk, of your car, that is, can significantly affect the way your car utilizes gas. Please leave the unwanted items at home before starting your driving journey. Just think of all the junk you can accumulate in your car and how all those items can start to add up.

And:

8 Painless Ways To Cut Your Electric Bill This Winter

One of their tips:

Strip : According to the experts at Lowe’s, a 1/8″ space between a standard exterior door and its threshold is equivalent to a two square inch hole in the wall. Closing those gaps can save you up to 15% in heating costs and reduce the demand on your heating system. They also offer a guide on how to accomplish this at the beginner level. Only three tools, three materials, and a day is all it requires to weatherstrip your entire home.

Finally, thanks to all who read and contribute here. I probably don’t say that enough, but this blog continues because of you. I initially started it just as an outlet for myself, unsure of whether it would attract any readers. But I enjoy writing, and would have still probably written a dozen or so essays even if nobody ever stopped by. Based on current trends, 2010 should bring in the 1 millionth visit (page views are already at 1.2 million views) and I should publish essay number 1,000.

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December 10, 2009 - Posted by | climate change, Media coverage, ocean thermal energy conversion

43 Comments

  1. RR – Not every story fits comfortably into a claendar year, but it might be good to take notice of the supply-driven convulsions in the US gas market, and the potential global implications if shale gas turns out to be as widespread as some assert.Then there is the continuing growth in coal use — despite the pre-Climategate oppposition of our intellectual superiors.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 10, 2009

  2. Oil prices have more than doubled, and in a normal year that would be big news. But I think the news has been discounted merely because the levels are so much lower than the record levels of 2008.RR-If one were to believe in conspiracy theories, that would be the ideal way to increase oil prices — ratchet them up.Drive the price up, and then bring it back, then drive it up again but not quite as high — that way people can get used to them. They remember the prior shock and treat this increase as, "Well, it's not so bad, it's been a lot worse."Course, that would only be the case if one were to believe in conspiracy theories and that Big Oil and traders can control market prices at will. 😉

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 10, 2009

  3. RR-Congrats on developing such a big blog audience.I just have to say by far the biggest energy story of 2009 is natural gas. Not only in North America, but globally it seems to be exploding. New Guinea, Western Australia, everywhere. China says it has shale gas. Europe says it has shale gas. Natural gas is not a panacea–but it is abundant, and not expensive. It is a feasible alternative to oil for ground transportation.In short, the doom scenarios are obliterated by this reality. I never bought into the doom scenarios anyway, but now…..At cngvehicles.net you see a guy selling used CNG-converted vehicles off the lot for $10-15k or less.I am sure others can do it.

    Comment by Benny Boom, No Doom Cole | December 10, 2009

  4. Wow RR thanks for the energy savings tips!One of the reasons I do not place much credence on conservation is that if you did not learn it from your grandparents, you are never going to.I was recently mocked for bring up carbon monoxide.“Watch Out For Carbon Monoxide : The leading cause of poisoning accidents in the United States, a common cause of it is poorly maintained heating systems.”Somebody should write a book called stupid things parents to kill their kids to save a buck on energy. My all electric house has a CO detector in the family room with a the fireplace. In an ice storm, we could be trying to keep warm and maybe running hard.We keep our house at 60 degrees but in the family room we keep it warmer with radiant heaters. Save money and be comfortable.

    Comment by Kit P | December 10, 2009

  5. Love those prices,especially on the trucks Benny. I might have to drive up to Oklahoma for my next pickup. I park my truck and trailer right next to the gas meter. Throw a PHIL device on it and I'm good to go. For about 75 cents a gallon.

    Comment by Maury | December 10, 2009

  6. China

    Comment by rufus | December 11, 2009

  7. Maury-There is a CNG station on my way to work, so if I had extra dough, I would buy one too.I am a one-vehicle kind of guy, so for now I am ICE.But, should CNG spread out a little, I would happily go to CNG. Like so many things, the conversion to CNG is made easier by the web. If only a few thousand CNG stations are built, you will be able to travel cross-country. Before your trip, or during, you go online and note locations.The CNG people are already doing this. There may be a huge future in CNG cars and trucks. If oil goes over $100 a barrel, then there obviously a huge future in CNG.

    Comment by Benny Boom, No Doom Cole | December 11, 2009

  8. "Natural gas is not a panacea–but it is abundant, and not expensive."The current abundant NG is twice as expensive as the last abundant NG.So Maury and Benny, why do you not tell us about your 20 years of experience with CNG POV?Just for the record, I'm gunna sail around the world. Next year.

    Comment by Kit P | December 11, 2009

  9. "Do an annual to annual comparison, and then let's discuss the results."That was surprisingly easy to do Robert. We used 153 million fewer barrels of crude in 2008 than we did in 2000. Yet,we ended up with 10 million more barrels of finished product. That works out to a savings of 446,000 bpd. Annual crude inputshttp://tinyurl.com/yzb2smgAnnual outputshttp://tinyurl.com/yhfx5vt

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  10. "If oil goes over $100 a barrel, then there obviously a huge future in CNG."Benny, Benny Benny. We have been over this before. Your standard EUtopian has been paying the equivalent of about $200-300/Bbl for years. The result — not Compressed Natural Gas Internal Combustion Engines. Simply smaller oil-fired ICEs.There is a real-world message in there somewhere.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 11, 2009

  11. "If only a few thousand CNG stations are built, you will be able to travel cross-country."A lot of his vehicles were bi-fuel Benny. I never go more than 10 miles from home with my work truck,so a PHIL device would be perfect.Kit,natural gas/methane isn't just cheap and abundant. It's renewable as well.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  12. We used 153 million fewer barrels of crude in 2008 than we did in 2000. Yet,we ended up with 10 million more barrels of finished product. That works out to a savings of 446,000 bpd.I will look at this later tonight when I have some time. The first thing I would check though is what inventory levels were doing, and the fill of the SPR during those years. Inventory levels swing by tens of millions of barrels, and we did ultimately put a few hundred million barrels in the SPR. But as I say, I will check later.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 11, 2009

  13. "The first thing I would check though is what inventory levels were doing"I don't see how that would matter. You put X amount in,and get X amount out. Simple.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  14. Don't overlook the MTBE. But, I think you might be on the right track, Maury.

    Comment by rufus | December 11, 2009

  15. I don't see how that would matter. You put X amount in,and get X amount out. Simple.Simple. To illlustrate, if inventories in the latter year were 100 million barrels higher for oil and lower for finished products, it will matter a lot. Think about it.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 11, 2009

  16. Those are crude input numbers from refineries Robert. The EIA gets those reports every week. I don't see how the SPR,or any other inventory,could affect those numbers at all.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  17. You're right about product supplied though Robert. This is a quote from EIA. "Product supplied is equal to field production, plus renewable fuels and oxygenate plant net production, plus refinery and blender net production, plus imports, plus net receipts, plusadjustments, minus stock change, minus refinery and blender net inputs, minus exports."I give up.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  18. Kinu:CNG cars are actually sold already in Europe. Plus, I do not know if they tax CNG as heavily as liquid fuel, so there is no incentive to go to CNG.If CNG becomes cheaper than ICEs, then consumers will switch. Duh.In the USA, I guess it is too much ever to expect an intelligent energy policy, but taxing gasoline more heavily and encouraging CNG would be a home run for everybody.Obama has shown himself fairly gutless so far. Cowed in Afghanistan, promising everything for everybody, and no gasoline taxes ever even discussed. So far, he has not gored a single sacred cow, right-wing or left-wing. So, maybe we drive CNG someday, maybe not.I still say, if oil becomes scarce, there is a huge future in CNG. Huge!

    Comment by Benny Boom, No Doom Cole | December 11, 2009

  19. Taxing gasoline more while encouraging CNG sounds like trying to pick winners and losers again. Oh wait, they are already encouraging CNG with a $2500-$32,000 rebate on CNG vehicles, a 30% tax credit on CNG fueling stations and $0.50 per GGE alternative fuel excise tax credit. I haven't noticed a home run from this.

    Comment by Clee | December 11, 2009

  20. CNG Federal tax credits reference http://www.ngvc.org/incentives/federalTax.html

    Comment by Clee | December 11, 2009

  21. That was surprisingly easy to do Robert.I didn't say it wouldn't be easy to do annual instead of monthly; it is just the way you need to do it to smooth out some of the noise.I give up.You don't have to give up, you just have to take it into account.Probably not going to be able to look at it tonight; super-VIPS visiting tomorrow and has kept me very busy.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 11, 2009

  22. Poet had the biggest energy story of the year,by far. Cellulosic ethanol for $2.35 a gallon at this point in time was earth shattering news. It wasn't wishful thinking from some bio-hopeful looking for money,and it included every cost from plant construction to depreciation. When I read that story,I knew everything was going to be okay.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  23. A few of the highlights from the Poet story: The $2.35 per gallon cost doesn't include any subsidies or tax credits.The process will provide its own energy,as well as 80% of the energy for the adjacent corn ethanol plant.Poet expects per gallon costs to drop below $2 by the time the commercial plant goes into operation.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  24. top stories Khosla 1 billion $ renewable energy fund created Darpa-e funds dozens of projects

    Comment by takchess | December 11, 2009

  25. It might seem menial, but with regards to demand side news the development (pilot stage) of a building labeling program by ASHRAE and others is very significant. A labeling program is called for in the climate legislation that passed the House. Such a program can help bridge the (debated) efficiency gap by allowing tenants and owners to understand the relative energy performance of any particular property. This in turn can influence purchasing/leasing decisions and, hopefully, drive market demand for higher performing buildings.See: http://www.ashrae.org/pressroom/detail/17380

    Comment by gestman9 | December 11, 2009

  26. Poet had the biggest energy story of the year,by far. Cellulosic ethanol for $2.35 a gallon at this point in time was earth shattering news. It wasn't wishful thinking from some bio-hopeful looking for money,and it included every cost from plant construction to depreciation.Maury~If it pans out as touted, it will indeed be big news. But let's wait and see, OK?I also remember when Boeing said they'd have the B-787 "Dreamliner" flying by 2007 and in service in 2008. As of today, it still hasn't made its first flight.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 11, 2009

  27. "If CNG becomes cheaper than ICEs, then consumers will switch. Duh."Benny — Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles USE Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs). Difference from gasoline or diesel is the fuel that goes into the ICE.Just to clear up any confusion, CNG/gasoline/diesel engines are called Internal Combustion Engines to distinguish them from the previous main prime mover, the steam engine, which is an External Combustion Engine (for obvious reasons).Now here is the kicker, Benny. CNG has been cheaper than gasoline or diesel for decades. Yet CNG has been having great difficulty finding market acceptance.Understand — I am not opposed to CNG. Tried to make a business out of it at one point. But we have to start with the data — and the data tells us that CNG has difficulties competing with liquid hydrocarbon fuels. My guess is that a lot of that has to do with the refueling issue — not just the relative availability of filling stations but also the time/difficulty of refueling with gas. Filling a tank with liquid is just so much faster & easier. What value do people put on their own time?Your basic point is solid — if liquid fuels go away, CNG will still be there for transportation; no need to pay attention to the Neo-Stalinist doomers. Although my guess is that there will be more future in converting natural gas into a liquid fuel for transportation purposes than in using CNG or LNG directly.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 11, 2009

  28. By the way, Benny — about your buddy Obama.The world is full of unintended consequences. Obama's EPA just flew in the face of Climategate and listed CO2 as a dangerous gas. They also listed CH4 as a dangerous "greenhouse" gas. Sources of emissions of CH4 will be highly regulated.Now think about Joe & Jane Citizen fueling a CNG vehicle with high pressure gas. What is the likelihood of unintended emissions of Ch4? How much regulation & expense will be required to meet EPA standards?Obama just killed the CNG baby in the cradle.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 11, 2009

  29. “I guess it is too much ever to expect an intelligent energy policy” First of US energy policy does include CGN:SEC. 741. CLEAN SCHOOL BUS PROGRAM.(a) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:(2) ALTERNATIVE FUEL.—The term ‘‘alternative fuel’’means—(A) liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen, or propane;(B) methanol or ethanol at no less than 85 percent by volume; or (C) biodiesel conforming with standards published by the American Society for Testing and Materials as of thedate of enactment of this Act.Subtitle D—Alternative Motor Vehicles and Fuels Incentives“Sources of emissions of CH4 will be highly regulated.”Again they already but for safety reason. Fleet use of CGN is heavily promoted in US urban cities with air quality issues. Mobile sources of CGN must be controlled so the do not become a explosive hazard in a confined space. When you are promoting alternate energy sources, energy policy should look at the best way to succeed. Targeting POV for CNG is not very practical. On the other hand, 10% corn ethanol is.So CNG is part of alternate energy policy by targeting fleets. Big market to penetrate.

    Comment by Kit P | December 11, 2009

  30. Chinese Refineries 28% Busier than One Year AgoEverything else was, more or less, anticipated. China is the "Story."

    Comment by rufus | December 11, 2009

  31. Kinu-Yes, I know CNG are ICEs. I lazily used ICE to mean a gasoline-powered ICE, as opposed to a CNG-powered vehicle.Obama my friend? You didn't read my post. I just said he has not gored a single scared cow, right-wing or left-wing. Clee–I enjoyed your links. And you make a very valid point on picking winners and losers by government fiat. It won't work.Nevertheless, we import gobs of oil into the US at great expense, and one could argue we have just spent $1 trillion and counting on military incursions to keep access to Mideast oil. That $1 trillion, BTW, is marginal costs, not total costs. And there is the somewhat unsettling reality that global oil is controlled by baboon oil-thug states. With the exception of Canada, no major oil exporter believes in anything like free enterprise, contract law, free press, property rights etc etc etc. Through sheer treachery, incompetence or by design, oil thugs could cut off or reduce our supply radically within a few years. Tax incentives for domestic production and conservation make sense in this context. I wish the world was a wonderful place, and everybody lived in a free market democracies. But what I want, and what is, are two different worlds.

    Comment by Benny Boom, No Doom Cole | December 11, 2009

  32. They also listed CH4 as a dangerous "greenhouse" gas.Kinuachdrach~That's pretty interesting. Composition varies a bit depending on source, but natural gas is — for all intents and purposes — methane (CH4).When I see those new TV ads saying we have at least 100 years of natural gas, I wonder if they will now to add a disclaimer saying, "The major component of natural gas is a dangerous greenhouse gas."Just wait until companies start tapping into those huge deposits of methane clathrates on the ocean floors. Once we have the technology to use the methane trapped in those clathrates, hydro-fracing shale will seem like the minor leagues.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 11, 2009

  33. With the exception of Canada, no major oil exporter believes in anything like free enterprise, contract law, free press, property rights etc etc etc.Norway would take exception to your statement Benny. They are the number three oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 11, 2009

  34. "If it pans out as touted, it will indeed be big news."I don't see what could stop it Wendell. They worked the kinks out with the pilot plant,and the commercial plant will open in 2011. Equipment has been modified to harvest the cobs,and Poet has signed agreements with farmers to collect 'em. The Dupont plant in Vonore,Tenn. goes online any day now. 250,000 gpy of ethanol from corn cobs. But,they'll switch to switchgrass within a year. Farmers are already growing the switchgrass for $200 per acre. Dupont isn't in it for the ethanol. They just want to license the technology.It's pretty cool that some coal plants are growing switchgrass on site,and burning it in place of coal. Things are moving pretty fast now. We live in exciting times.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  35. Coal fired plants have two, potentially profitable, waste streams – CO2, and Heat.The CO2 can be used to fertilize biofuel crops, and the heat can be used to "process" them.The "heat" thing is being done, already. Yep, you ain't seen nothing, yet.

    Comment by rufus | December 11, 2009

  36. Don't those two potentially profitable waste streams also apply to natural gas fired plants and biomass fired plants? And you're right, so far we ain't seen nothing much from it.

    Comment by Clee | December 11, 2009

  37. Drymill ethanol producers sell their CO2.

    Comment by Maury | December 11, 2009

  38. “The CO2 can be used to fertilize biofuel crops, and the heat can be used to "process" them.”Not if profit was your motivation. The global warming potential (gwp) of CO2, CH4, and N2O2 is 1, 21, & 300.Examples of neutral ghg electricity generation are some renewable energy. If a wind turbine produces 1 MWh of electricity it can earn a credit for the offset of the generation, most likely NG not coal. Closed loop biomass (biomass grown for energy)When waste biomass decays it produces CO2, CH4, and N2O2. If you produce 1 MWh with waste biomass can earn a credit for the offset of the generation and the ghg x gwp that would have occurred naturally. Now that rotting is also contributor to surface water pollution (think dead zone). So if the nutrients can be captured and used for organic fertilizer credit for the offset associated with ammonia and phosphate production can be taken.

    Comment by Kit P | December 11, 2009

  39. "Norway would take exception to your statement Benny. They are the number three oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia."We could add a few more countries, like the USA, the UK, and maybe pre-Chavez Venezuela, if we were willing to go back in time. And maybe a few more, like Brazil, a few years into the future. And maybe others like Australia, if we are willing to throw in LNG.I also don't think it's fair to lump exporters into two groups: the free states and the thug states. Several countries are shades of gray, going by Benny's adjectives. For example, Qatar has a relatively free press (home of Al Jazeera) and is friendly to the US, and both Qatar and the UAE are relatively open and business friendly places. A few weeks in Oman would probably convince you that it's a prosperous place with a fairly content population where western companies can operate.

    Comment by armchair281 | December 12, 2009

  40. We used 153 million fewer barrels of crude in 2008 than we did in 2000. Yet,we ended up with 10 million more barrels of finished product. That works out to a savings of 446,000 bpd.Have just had a cursory look at this, and it didn't take long to see that something is wrong. If it is ethanol that is responsible, I would expect to see the delta trending upward as ethanol production increased. In other words, if I trend refinery outputs minus refinery inputs, I should see that growing as ethanol production grows. But that isn't what the trend looks like. The largest delta is in 2005 (and the delta did grow from 1999 to 2005), then it is flat in 2006 and 2007, and it falls in 2008 – just when the largest ethanol production occurred.The flatness in 2006 may be the MTBE phaseout, but that was complete during 2006. That doesn't explain why ethanol production ramped sharply in 2007 and 2008, but refinery output minus input actually fell.So it will take some more digging, but right away that is a flag that there is more to the picture.Could be inventory changes; I will have to look.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 12, 2009

  41. An energy story for the year, maybe not top 10.In the past couple of days, Basel, Switzerland has canceled the Deep Heat Mining Projecthttp://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/index.html?cid=7874316and AltaRock has shut down its EGS project at The Geysers, Californiahttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/science/earth/12quake.htmla setback for deep geothermal.

    Comment by Clee | December 12, 2009

  42. “In addition to a $6 million grant from the Energy Department, AltaRock had attracted some $30 million in venture capital ….”It was a scam Clee. You can not setback an energy source that is nothing more than an interesting idea for some guy who make a living trying to keep science interesting to college students. Furthermore, there is not reason to think that geothermal is 'clean' and has less environmental impact than coal. Like Ggeothermal will have higher releases more radioactive material to the environment than a nuke plant.Pick up a California newspaper discussing nukes and they will come up with some outrageous cost for nuclear power but there is never a word about the cost of things that will always be to expensive to maintain. You will never see Clee in a full-body respiratory working on a heat exchanger covered in arsenic.

    Comment by Kit P | December 12, 2009

  43. Benny wrote: "Obama my friend? You didn't read my post."No, Benny, I did read your post. And quite a good one it was too. I was only jangling your chain. :)And talking about jangling chains — possible story of the year: 'What if we gave a big end-of-the-world doom-laden hand-over-all your-cash-or-we-all-die conference in Copenhagen and nobody cared?'Certainly, Hopenhagen has to compete with really important stories (like Tiger Woods' love life), but its lack of impact is remarkable.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 12, 2009


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